Divorce can be very complicated, and the rules vary greatly from state to state. That said, divorce procedure can really be broken down into three main steps that are fairly universal.
Step 1 – Separate
The first step in most divorces is to separate. As a practical matter, divorcing spouses are seeking to dissolve their relationship and start separate lives again.
So in most cases, it makes sense to get started right away by separating. Separating also has important legal implications in most situations.
We can look to Virginia for an example of why separation matters legally. Virginia allows for a couple to receive a no-fault divorce if they can show they have lived “separate and apart without any cohabitation and without interruption for one year.”
That time period can be reduced to six months for couples with no kids.
This is supposed to ensure that couples really show a commitment to ending their marriage before their divorce is granted, and similar “waiting periods” exists in many states.
This initial stage is also the time to figure out what your divorce will look like. Whether or not you have children will make a big difference, and you need to know if you and your spouse have significant assets to fight over. It is also important to evaluate your relationship with your spouse. If you are able to work together on a resolution, the divorce can be relatively simple and inexpensive. The more disputes you have the more you are likely to pay in legal fees and other costs in the divorce procedure.
Step 2 – Settle your differences
There are many options for settling issues like property division and child care for in a divorce procedure.
- The most simple situation is a couple simply sitting down and working out an agreement.
- A more common situation is for a couple to hire a lawyer jointly, and that lawyer will help them work out a deal that can be presented to the court.
- Couples can also use mediation, where a mediator helps guide the couple to an agreement.
- Arbitration is another option. Arbitration is like an informal court proceeding, where an arbitrator will hear from both sides and then render a verdict.
The agreement between the couple typically must be approved by a court. In some states and situations, it makes sense to first file a petition for divorce and then go about trying to work out an agreement.
In other cases, it makes sense to have the agreement all done and filed with the court as part of the initial petition for divorce.
If a couple cannot come to an agreement, then the court will eventually move forward like it would on other cases. The judge will hear testimony from both sides and then make orders that settle child support, child custody, property division, and related issues.
Step 3 – Finalize the divorce
Once all the requirements for a divorce procedure are met and the judge is satisfied, then the judge will issue a final divorce decree. This instantly severs the legal bonds of marriage, but the decree may leave in place things that each spouse must do.
For example, child support is an ongoing obligation that one spouse legally has to another regardless of the fact that they are no longer married.